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Hrair Sarkissian, "Unexposed" | Cécile Bourne-Farell
—2015.01.12

Hrair Sarkissian, “Unexposed”

Extracts from the “Armenity” exhibition, 1rst. Armenien pavillion, Venise biennale 2015, who won the Golden Lion
What is brought to light in images titled “Unexposed” by Hrair Sarkissian is not only a contrasting interiority felt within the living spaces of Armenians, whom have relocated to Turkey, but also further, the role these spaces play in the development of identity of their inhabitants. The images, with their strong narrative complexity, may very well have been taken at the beginning of the 20th century during the Armenian genocide from 1915 to 19171Turkey, the successor state of the Ottoman Empire, denies the word genocide is an accurate term for the mass killings of Armenians that began under Ottoman rule in 1915.[22] It has in recent years been faced with repeated calls to recognize them as genocide. To date, 23 countries have officially recognized the mass killings as genocide. To know more: The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915–1916: Documents Presented to Viscount Grey of Falloden by Viscount James Bryce and Arnold Toynbee, Uncensored Edition. Ara Sarafian (ed.) Princeton, New Jersey: Gomidas Institute, 2000. ISBN 0-9535191-5-5. , or equally during the Second World War 2After the end of World War I, Genocide survivors tried to return and reclaim their former homes and assets, but were driven out by the Ankara Government.[191] On 13 September 1915, the Ottoman parliament passed the “Temporary Law of Expropriation and Confiscation”, stating that all property, including land, livestock, and homes belonging to Armenians, was to be confiscated by the authorities.


The Armenians, since the Ottoman regime to our contemporary, have existed as a dispossessed group , their gestures and beliefs reduced to nothing by oppressive regimes. Hrair Sarkissian’s work intends to reveal some of the intimacy found within the Armenian minority in Turkey, some of whom dare not even mention their family names, fearful of the fatal consequences of revealing themselves through such repression.

In general, the people who seek refuge in these housings are those stemming from the countryside, mostly Eastern Anatolia and small villages, where their Armenian identities are most stigmatized. Their presence in small communities is far more recognizable, as everyone knows everyone, yet moving to larger cities assures anonymity, allowing them to recover and reclaim a sense of community and belonging. At that, since the period of the genocide, families—called the “Cavour”—have had to convert to Islam, in hopes of escaping some of the repression imposed by the Turkish. As a consequence, those whom have chosen to are neither accepted by their Armenian companions, nor from the Turkish: “they are never looked at the same way after that,” says the artist. It is significant to understand, within this context, that those who embark on a different identity quest also risk leaving the Islam, only to enter another, even more constrained community, thus putting themselves at an even larger risk.
The images of Sarkissian demonstrate this process. Hands holding fragile lace tablecloths, as though clutching to the earth that bears their roots. A floral armchair becomes evocative of bodies ever in search for a wounded past, just as a plinth overflows over time with layers of accumulated paint. The bodies are suffering, their souls searching for something lost. These are places that cannot reveal the identities of the people that come to them; silently, entire existences are played out in these muted interiors. This theatricality is provoked by the anonymity of the figures depicted, their presence only suggested through silhouettes and shadows, an open door, a hand reaching in the darkness to keep it open. We understand the severity of the scenario, something dark and deeply rooted, reinforced by the specific lighting used in the artist’s work. The royal blue hue of both the chairs suggests not only that we find ourselves in a domestic interior, but one that is also symbolic of the refuge and protection of the setting. Nothing is for granted, and everything remains in the realm of the unspoken. Only a single group photograph is presented: it stands atop a television frame, delicately placed on a lace doily. These hieratic photographs, though never casting a designation over their subjects, utilize the modesty of the apartments in order to reveal the psychological mutations, which occur in the liminal spaces between eternally changing lives—lost between situations, cultures and generations.

Cécile Bourne-Farrell, January 12th. 2015

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References   [ + ]

1. Turkey, the successor state of the Ottoman Empire, denies the word genocide is an accurate term for the mass killings of Armenians that began under Ottoman rule in 1915.[22] It has in recent years been faced with repeated calls to recognize them as genocide. To date, 23 countries have officially recognized the mass killings as genocide. To know more: The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915–1916: Documents Presented to Viscount Grey of Falloden by Viscount James Bryce and Arnold Toynbee, Uncensored Edition. Ara Sarafian (ed.) Princeton, New Jersey: Gomidas Institute, 2000. ISBN 0-9535191-5-5.
2. After the end of World War I, Genocide survivors tried to return and reclaim their former homes and assets, but were driven out by the Ankara Government.[191] On 13 September 1915, the Ottoman parliament passed the “Temporary Law of Expropriation and Confiscation”, stating that all property, including land, livestock, and homes belonging to Armenians, was to be confiscated by the authorities.
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Cécile Bourne Farrell | 10 Camden Square NW1 9UY London | T. 07949959726 | cecile.bourne@orange.fr